The Island, Part 1: Welcome

Ever since I began writing my blog half a year ago, I’ve been avoiding writing about my island. Some things are just so close to the heart that no matter how well you write, nothing can do these memories justice. Still, it would be a bigger crime to refrain from sharing these memories with you. I will be attempting to do this phenomenon justice by writing about different aspects of it in a series of posts.

I call it a phenomenon simply because it is more than an experience, a place, a time. It’s a state of mind, only not.

Welcome to my island.

My grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary when I was 9 years old. As lovers of world travel, they decided to celebrate their landmark by inviting the whole family to join them in their favorite of all travel spots. That summer was the first time I ever stepped foot on my island. Joined by my grandparents, aunt and uncle, parents, brothers and dog, we managed the 8 hour drive plus the hour-long ferry ride.

About now you’re probably waiting for me to mention the name of said island. Well, it won’t happen. Not now, not later. I could make something up about keeping the name of the island secret so as to create an air of mystery that will draw you further into the story, or perhaps simply to preserve some of this island’s magic for myself. The truth is much less satisfying. Back when I was 9 years old, part of the island’s allure was that is was practically unknown to the world. My family got in the habit of not mentioning the island’s name to keep it from becoming a more popular tourist location. Years later, after many publications about this island (including at least one article in National Geographic), the island is hardly a secret anymore. Still, old habits die hard.

(Side note: If you’re REALLY interested in the name, I’m sure you’ll be able to puzzle it together eventually with the help of the internet.)

The island is roughly kidney bean shaped, under two miles long and under one mile wide, sitting roughly 10 miles out to sea. It is a year-round home to under 100 individuals, growing in population to around 1,000 over the summer (tourist season). This provides the basis for the island hierarchy…

Those who reside there year-round make the top rung of society. After the island elite are those families and individuals who live there semi-annually from Memorial Day through Labor Day (the warmer months when the island isn’t covered in snow and surrounded by frozen ocean). Following them are the families that return every summer to rent for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Lastly are the day-trippers who arrive on the first ferry in the morning and leave on the last ferry in the evening. To the native islander there is nothing more despicable than a day-tripper, and yet it’s the summer tourists who support the natives enough in the summer months to allow them to survive the rest of the year on the island.

One can easily pick out the native islanders from the tourists. Firstly, the natives don’t wear weird sun-hats, fanny packs, cameras with gigantic lenses around their necks, or carry a map of the island around with them everywhere. They also don’t wear high-heeled shoes. (Which is extremely impractical as there isn’t a single paved road on the whole island.) In fact, most island kids don’t wear shoes at all.

(On occasion you’d see a day-tripper get off the ferry with golf clubs asking for the nearest golf course. This was always a source of humor for my family. A golf course? On our rustic island?! Just goes to show, a number of years back one of the elderly islanders made a “mini-golf course” in his yard. Still, its use is more of a replacement for playing cards in the fish-house after hours, rather than brushing up on your swing.)

Anyway, my family fell into the second to lowest rung on the scale of island hierarchy. We began going up to the island around 15 summers ago (this would be the 16th), staying for roughly three weeks each time. At first we were no better than your average tourists, but over time people began to recognize us. By our seventh year or so, I no longer had to tell the grocer my last name for my family’s tab, the post office lady knew my family members, and people on the roads would nod their head at me in recognition. I tried my best to fit in as an island kid, walking barefoot on pebbles and broken glass (our gravel driveway at home helped me build up strong calluses throughout the year). I even made friends with a few of the actual island kids.

Last summer was the first summer in 15 years that I didn’t go to my island. The prices for renting have soared (thanks a lot, financial crisis), the dates for rental are less convenient, and now I have a significant other in my life, keeping me in Israel throughout the summer. I don’t mean to blame him – it’s not his fault. Last summer he simply didn’t have enough vacation days to make going up to the island a possibility. This year, now that I’m working too (and no longer a student with summer vacations), I also lack vacation days. Fortunately I was at least able to share my island with him during our first summer together. My island is such a part of who I am and where I come from that I can’t imagine not sharing it with him. Still circumstances change and it seems as if those wonderful summers from my past are in the past. But one way or another I will go back. Not this year, and probably not next, but it will happen. Of that I am confident.

In the meantime I’ll sustain myself with memories of a time when the grass was greener. With you as my guest, we’ll go back to that special place and relive the magic, not in a state of melancholy, but for the excitement and adventure of it all.

To pique your interest until the next post, here’s a digital storytelling about my time on my island that I made a number of years ago for a class project:

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